Moonlight Southern Crossing
August 9th 2014
Saturday morning early August: the snow had fallen, the sky was clearing and the moon was two days away from full. A good time for a moonlight crossing of the southern skyline of the Tararua Range.
At the car park the sign confirmed my view that the hut couldn’t be more than eight hours walking away, indeed the time given to get to the first hut, Alpha, was five to seven hours. The two of us left at 9.15am. There was a little evidence that snow had fallen around the car park but within an hour there was snow all around us.
The plan was to go up the Marchant Ridge. This is a broad, slowly rising ridge that takes you up to the alpine grasslands above the bush. Just below the bush line is Alpha Hut where we were going to have our dinner then leave to head off across the ‘tops’ in the moonlight.
The snow got thicker and our going got slower. We kept on moving though and just after sunset we reached the turnoff for Block XVI track down into the Tauherenikau valley. Darkness didn’t take long to fall after that and we still had four kilometres to go to get to Alpha. We climbed further up, towards the next turnoff to the Tauherenikau valley. Another half hour and we had made the highest point of the Marchant ridge where the trees are only metre high shrubs. The moon had risen and we were getting pretty tired. From here it was downhill through the bush to Hells Gate. The snow covered everything including the track and even though the moonlight came in little patches it was no help and it was hard to make out where the track was, particularly when we came upon a windfall which seemed quite often. From Hells Gate it was uphill all the way to Alpha but it was dark, pretty cold and the track markers seemed mainly hidden from the light of my fading torch beam. Every now and then one of us would call out, “track marker” when we had spotted one to give us the confidence we were still going the right way. I was very pleased to be able to find the track in such conditions. I was thinking, “The ‘Force’ must be with me tonight.” We were travelling very slowly by now and so it wasn’t until 9.45pm that we finally got to the hut; that’s after twelve and a half hours tramping. We didn’t feel like going any further.
The floor of the hut had ice on it so we had to move about carefully. We were too tired to cook our dinner so had a sandwich and got into our sleeping bags. I was in all my clothes, hoping they would dry out soon. The thin nylon socks did but my puffer jacket kept me cool enough to not sleep well. At about 3am we had guests who stopped by to cook up a hot drink. The three of them had done the crossing successfully and were very happy with themselves. They had our tracks to follow all the way down so wouldn’t have so much trouble finding their way.
By 7am I was tired of being cold and got up to prepare for our descent and return to the car by the same route. Everything had frozen: our boots, woollen socks and gaiters were the hardest bits of attire to put on. We left the hut at 8am on a beautifully fine day. Even with the track much more clearly marked it was still hard going. In fact we didn’t get to the car until 8pm - another twelve hour tramp.
So, all up, twenty four hours of tramping in just thirty six hours. That is a record for me. Next time I shall attempt the Moonlight Crossing starting from Otaki Forks. Story and picture Alan Graham
- Party members
- Alan Graham (scribe), Alan Wright (leader).